Meat may be to blame for one in 14 urinary tract infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) may be driven by E.coli from eating meat, and people should take extra care when handling and preparing food, scientists have warned.
A new study from George Washington University suggests that around one in 14 UTIs may be triggered by bacteria from meat, which can live in the gut before ending up in the urinary tract.
Researchers collected samples of E.coli infections from hospitals in Arizona and found that around 8 per cent were foodborne animal strains such as those found in chicken, turkey and pork.
Around 85 per cent of UTIs are caused by E.coli, and the research suggests that a significant number of those may be caused by meat consumption.
Although it was known that eating uncooked meat or accidentally ingesting bacteria could lead to a stomach upset, it was not known that the bacteria could remain in the gut and cause problems later on.
People may also accidentally transfer the bug if they do not wash their hands properly after handling meat, the experts warned.
“On an individual level, I would say that anyone already prone to UTIs should take extra care when handling raw meat, particularly poultry,” said Lance Price, professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.
“If people handle raw meat products and don’t wash sufficiently – which can be difficult – then the E.coli could be introduced directly into the urogenital tract.”
Some strains of E.coli are typically found in the human bowel and are usually harmless but can sometimes get transferred to the urinary tract, leading to painful bladder infections.
Some UTIs also can lead to more serious kidney infections; symptoms include fever, chills, back pain, nausea or vomiting and life-threatening blood infections.
There is also emerging evidence to suggest that UTIs can lead to temporary confusion, and may be a significant cause of falls in elderly people.
Women are more at risk because their pelvic anatomy makes it easier for bacteria to travel to the urinary tract after being expelled from the body.
‘Vehicle for human exposure’
Writing in the journal One Health, the researchers concluded: “Meat may be an important vehicle for human exposure to extraintestinal pathogenic E.coli strains from food animals.
“Approximately 8 per cent of the clinical E.coli isolates in our population appeared to be foodborne zoonotic strains.”
The experts said that vaccinating animals against six of the most dangerous strains of E.coli would be one way to ensure that they do not enter the food supply.
“On a population scale, food animal producers could investigate ways to eliminate the riskiest strains of E.coli from their animals through vaccination programmes,” added Prof Price.
“It would be a win-win for producers and public health, since some of the strains that pose the greatest threat to people also cause problems in animals.